|Birth: ||Feb. 3, 1920|
|Death: ||May 7, 2011|
J.T. Britton, a decorated World War II pilot, died May 7, 2011 at 91. He was the last member of the most highly decorated aircrew in U.S. history to die. Jay Zeamer, the pilot, and Joe Sarnoski were awarded the Medal of Honor; Britton, the copilot, and seven other crew members were awarded the second highest medal for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross. The photographic reconnaissance mission was off the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific and featured on the History Channel and in numerous books including Martin Caidin's book, Flying Forts: The B-17 in WWII.
J.T. was born February 3, 1920 in Gadsden, AZ. His family farmed the Yuma Valley. After graduating from Yuma High School, he went to the University of California-Davis where he was active on the boxing team and earned extra money playing pool. When the war broke out and he joined the Army Air Corps.
J.T. began his training at Rankin Air Academy in Tulare, CA, had basic training in
Merced, CA, then on to Luke Air Force Base in AZ for more training. He soon found himself on a ship headed to Hawaii to join the 5th Air Force 43rd Bomb Group where he searched for subs from a B-18. Shortly afterwards, J.T. learned to fly B-17s and was assigned to the 43rd Bomber Group and headed to Australia, then on to New Guinea. J.T. participated in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea where he became skilled in a new technique developed by the Allied Air Forces, called "skip-bombing."
The day of that fateful mission began June 16, 1943 when two members of the "Eager Beavers" crew were grounded with malaria. J.T. volunteered to copilot the photo/recon mission over the Bougainville Island in the Pacific. Mapping the terrain was imperative for the best site for an amphibious landing and discovering how many enemy troops and aircraft were reinforcing the island before the ground troops were sent in. The mission was deemed so dangerous that no one would be ordered to fly - the crew was made entirely of volunteers.
The B-17, "Old 666," was heavily armed with extra machine guns. The first part of the mapping mission was without incident, but as they began the mapping run along Bougainville's west cost, they saw 22 enemy fighters taking off from the island's airfield. Just seconds after completion, the B-17 was attacked head-on by Japanese fighters.
Sarnoski, shot two zeros down and was mortally wounded in the attack. Zeamer and the crew shot down four more. The B-17s oxygen and hydraulic systems were destroyed and the flight instruments were knocked out. More that 120 pieces of ragged steel had torn into the pilot - shattering his feet and knees and paralyzing his legs. He used the last of his strength to dive the B-17 to 10,000 feet above sea level where 17 more enemy fighters resumed the attack from all sides. Zeamer forcefully maneuver the plane while the crew fought back. The fight lasted over 45 minutes until the enemy fighters, who were low onfuel and ammunition, pulled away.
With the pilot drifting in and out of consciousness, J.T. headed "Old 666" home with only a magnetic compass; all the other instruments, including the brakes and flaps, were gone. When they reached New Guinea, the crew in the cockpit would tell Britton how high he was as he brought "Old 666" in and landed without incident. He said that he made quite a few landings before and after that, but none were as slick, "I just greased it in!" He landed on a dirt runway by expertly ground-looping the plane, according to General George Kenney. The Flying Fortress had survived over 180 bullet holes and five gaping holes from 20mm cannons.
After retiring from the Air Force at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, TX, Britton returned to school at the University of Texas at El Paso, and then purchased a farm in Mesquite, NM where he farmed and raised livestock. He moved briefly to Albuquerque, and then to Midland, TX, where he met and married his current wife, Josephine Dot Britton. J.T. was also an avid bridge player and traveled twice across all 50 states playing in Bridge Tournaments and earning master-points.
J.T. was always there for his family and friends. He taught his children the importance of citizenship and standing up for what they believed in. He stressed tolerance and acceptance of others and always led by his example. Until being put in a nursing home, J.T. stayed in touch with his Air Force friends from the 43rd Bomb Group, "Ken's Men," and called them every Veteran's Day. He will be missed by all, but will be in our hearts forever.
J.T. Britton was preceded in death by his parents, Clarence and Phoebe Mae Britton, his sister, Elsie Mae, his brother, Woodrow, and the mother of his two children, Erlyne Harkey Britton. He is survived by his wife of 11 years, Josephine Dot Britton and her three children, Richard Erwin, Angie Kirk, and David Erwin all from the Odessa area, his sister Katherine Hunt from Ventura, CA, and his son and daughter, Boyd Britton from John Day, OR and Lynn Coffman from Boston, MA and his many grandchildren.
Funeral services will be 2:00 PM Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at Sunset Memorial Funeral Home Chapel with Bob Miller, of Christian Faith Center of Greenwood, officiating. Military honors will be rendered at the Graveside Service by the U.S. Air Force. Visitation will be 5-7 PM Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at Sunset memorial Funeral Home.
Sunset Memorial Gardens
Plot: Last Supper Plot 261 Lot 2
Created by: Janice Williams Langley
Record added: May 09, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 69586689